After a rough loss to the Giants, the Eagles are trying to find out what they have at a number of positions - yet a Wild Card berth is still improbably in their crosshairs.
It's not where any of us expected the Birds to be when we started compiling mock drafts after their dreadful loss to the Raiders in late October, but playoff chatter (however distant) is a welcome surprise.
But that doesn't mean we're not also eyeing the 2022 NFL Draft.
With college football barreling towards bowl game season, we have a pretty good handle on most prospects' 2021 bodies of work and can start evaluating them based on their production across an entire college football season. So let's take a hack at projecting the first round of April's draft:
1. Lions: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
I don't think any of the quarterbacks in this year's draft are worth the No. 1 overall pick, though I like a few as first-round options. But the Lions are desperate. Corral is a very intriguing player with dual-threat upside (he has 20 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs in 12 games this year) and could be dangerous in the RPO game with D'Andre Swift. The Lions are obviously much more than a quarterback away from being respectable, but Jared Goff is simply too bad to continue as Detroit's guy.
2. Texans: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Thibodeaux is probably the most talented player in this year's draft class, and the one I'd obviously take first. The Texans will think about a quarterback because, between Deshaun Watson's nightmarish legal and moral situation and his desire to play elsewhere, they lack any kind of answer at QB. But ultimately they go best player available and pick a pass rusher who will make Pro Bowls for years.
3. Jaguars: T Evan Neal, Alabama
Trevor Lawrence is the Jags' entire future and has been sacked 20 times in 11 games this year, so Jacksonville needs to make sure it keeps the dude upright as often as possible. Neal stands 6-foot-7, weighs 350 pounds, is only 21 years old, and is widely regarded as the best offensive line prospect in this year's draft. Problem, meet solution.
4. Jets: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
If Stingley falls at all over slight injury concerns, the Eagles should try their hardest to grab him. The LSU corner has played just 10 games since 2019 while he's dealt with a nagging foot injury that caused him to miss the end of 2020, and now a big chunk of 2021. He underwent a procedure on the foot and should in theory be all good. When healthy, Stingley is a ballhawk (6 INTs in his freshman year) with the size (6-foot-1) and instincts to be an All-Pro corner.
5. Jets (via SEA): DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Another player the Eagles should pursue if possible, Hutchinson has spent all 2021 making a name for himself on Saturdays with powerful pass rushes off the edge. He dominated in the Wolverines' win over Ohio State, and so far has 12.0 sacks in 12 games along with three passes defended and two forced fumbles. He's a high-energy athletic freak who will wreck offensive lines at the next level.
6. Giants: DE George Karlaftis, Purdue
If not for Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, Karlaftis would be getting way more hype for potential as an edge rusher. He also hasn't popped statistically, racking up just 4.5 sacks in 12 games with the Boilermakers this year as opposing offenses key on him. But he's a monster in pass rush situations and will immediately improve the Giants' fortunes on defense.
7. Giants (via CHI): OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
I've got the G-Men doubling down in the trenches while they keep trying to figure out if Daniel Jones is the answer at QB. If they really want a fair evaluation, they need to do better at right tackle than aging Nate Solder, who looks nothing like his former self. Ekwonu combines crazy strength with surprising mobility for a guy his size (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) and should help Jones see cleaner pockets.
8. Washington: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
I think Washington will think about a quarterback here, with just one off the board, but ultimately the Football Team can afford to kick the can down the road with Taylor Heinicke for another season with the weak QB class and improve their secondary in the mean time. Booth doesn't have crazy INT production (just 3 INT in 24 career games) but his height and his long arms make him an exciting prospect. He's super fluid and should translate well to playing against NFL wideouts.
9. Eagles: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
There's a chance that Hamilton, who has missed time this year while dealing with a knee injury, could be gone before the Eagles' first pick in next spring's draft. If he's still on the board, though, I simply can't see Howie Roseman passing on securing a franchise-level safety.
At 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, Hamilton seems like the big-bodied, ballhawk-y type of playmaker you can build a secondary around, that electric guy who combines size and athleticism to torture opposing quarterbacks.
In 31 career games with the Fighting Irish he notched eight interceptions, 16 passes defended, 7.5 tackles for loss. He was generally a super solid tackler all over the field, something the Eagles have needed for years. Hamilton's a guy you can line up in the box for an added physical presence, or sit deep against those big, speedy wideouts and not worry about getting beat.
Rodney McLeod isn't getting younger and his future with the team isn't clear, while Marcus Epps has come along but is hardly some sure thing as an NFL starter. Hamilton is the perfect safety for a Jonathan Gannon defense (and frankly any defense), able to excel in a zone scheme and make plays at any part of the field.
Hamilton is the safety you pick at No. 9.
10. Eagles (via MIA): WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Eagles have two seasons' worth of evidence showing them that Jalen Reagor is a bad football player. Quez Watkins was a fun preseason storyline and still has lightning quick speed, but is really a WR3. And after that, the wide receiver corps is barren.
Long story short, DeVonta Smith can't be the only starting-caliber wideout on the team if Jalen Hurts (or someone else?) is expected to run a successful offense next year. This season's run game explosion has been a ton of fun, but it might not be tenable long-term because it's 2021 and the best teams in the league throw the ball.
Enter Treylon Burks, a big, 6-foot-3 playmaking wideout who is having a breakout year with the Razorbacks and would be a perfect complement to DeVonta Smith's finesse game. Burks has 67 catches for 1,123 yards and 11 TD this year, including 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He has TD catches of 91, 85, 66, and 52 yards this season, plus a 49-yard rushing TD.
There will be a lot of excitement about a strong free agent WR class this offseason, and I understand if the front office wants to try and nab a Mike Williams-type. But Williams is going to get paid this offseason, and I'd much rather take another swing at a first-round wideout talent when you have three first-round picks. Burks can be the next Williams while saving you a ton of cash over the next four years, so you can spend that cash on... maybe a veteran QB's big-money contract?
In any scenario, the Birds would be insanely lucky to have Burks making huge catches in the Linc. Don't overthink it: take another SEC wide receiver. He's going to be a monster.
11. Panthers: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
This Panthers team has a number of obvious holes, starting at quarterback, but I think Carolina sees itself more as a player for a veteran QB than interested in drafting a young guy and starting from square one. P.J. Walker or Sam Darnold can fill in at starter until they find a different answer. For now, they need to invest in O-line help to clear the way for Christian McCaffrey and hopefully give either Walker or Darnold enough time to find guys like Robby Anderson downfield.
12. Falcons: OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
No QB?! I know, it's crazy. But nothing about the way the Falcons have operated for the last 20 months suggests they know what they're doing, or that they're interested in a rebuild. They took a tight end fourth overall! This year, the Falcons are allowing tons of QB hits and need to protect whoever plays QB for the future, especially if it's an elderly Matt Ryan. Green is gigantic and is probably a Top 10 talent, so this could be a relative steal.
13. Saints: QB Malik Willis, Liberty
EXCITEMENT. Sean Payton is not one for spinning his wheels, and I'd imagine at this point he knows exactly what he has in Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill: two players who aren't starting quarterbacks. Willis, on the other hand, offers massive upside as New Orleans' next franchise cornerstone with his dual-threat game. I love Willis as a prospect, and would like him in midnight green - a cannon arm and Michael Vick-like running skills! - but have him just narrowly missing Philadelphia. An offense with Willis and Kamara will be infuriating to defend.
14. Eagles (via IND): DL DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Eagles fans aren't the only ones sick of Derek Barnett's inconsistent production and regular boneheaded penalties. I would be amazed if the Birds' decision-makers opted to bring the 25-year-old back after his contract is up this offseason.
Instead, here they should take another swing at adding a difference-making defensive lineman in the first round. DeMarvin Leal is having a tremendous junior year with the Aggies and is a no-brainer first-round D-line talent.
The San Antonio native is a large human - 6-foot-4, 290 pounds - with impressive athleticism for his size. He has 7.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble in 10 games this year with Texas A&M while also setting a career-high in tackles with 52. He's played all over the line for A&M, and while his pass-rush ability needs a little work, all the tools are there for him to become a truly special player. The dude is a monster.
Leal has the ability to play inside or outside because of his size and speed combination. If the Eagles are looking for the next player to pair with Javon Hargrave as Fletcher Cox's production declines, Leal can be that guy. If they want Leal to slide in as Brandon Graham's replacement on the outside, he can do that too. He's just too all-around talented for a team so obsessed with the trenches to pass on.
15. Browns: DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
The Browns have superstars on the edges, but the interior of their defensive line could use some work to really unlock Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney's potential. Adding a stud like Davis, who has anchored Georgia's historic defense this year, could bring the up-the-middle disruption to make Cleveland's the clear best D-line in the league.
16. Steelers: OL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
I flirted with having the Eagles take Linderbaum giving the uncertainy surrounding Jason Kelce, the question mark about Brandon Brooks, and Landon Dickerson maybe tracking better as a guard than a center. Linderbaum is slightly undersized but is a blue-chip talent with a penchant for mauling. Iowa breeds offensive linemen like no other. The Steelers make a play to find their next Maurkice Pouncey and help Najee Harris, who will carry this offense for the next couple years.
17. Broncos: DE David Ojabo, Michigan
On the opposite side of Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo is quietly having himself a tremendous season as well. The sophomore has 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, and might turn out to be the best pass rusher in this class when it's all said and done. With Von Miller gone and the Broncos angling for a veteran QB, this pick brings playmaking ability on the defensive side of the ball.
18. Raiders: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
The tragic Henry Ruggs situation means Raiders quarterback Derek Carr still needs more weapons, as DeSean Jackson is more of a one-season stop-gap than anything else. Wilson is racking up crazy production for the Buckeyes this year - 70 catches, 1,058 yards, and 12 TDs - and would provide Las Vegas with a worthy WR1 option to bring more consistency to a high-ceiling offense.
19. Vikings: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
The Vikings don't have a lot of long-term answers at cornerback and have allowed the 10th-most passing yards in the NFL through 12 weeks, despite having used their bye week while other teams have played 12 games. They're better than their 5-6 record suggests, but the defense needs improvement in order to turn that win percentage around in 2022. Elam is a big, long corner with five picks and 20 passes defended in 29 games as a Gator. He immediately becomes their CB1.
20. Chargers: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Chargers need to lean into making Justin Herbert the NFL's next great quarterback. Wide receiver Mike Williams is going to be getting paid elsewhere next year as Los Angeles gears up to make sure they can afford Herbert's big-money deal, so let Williams walk and restock the offensive weapon cupboard with Olave, a speedy and slick do-it-all wide receiver who has 35 touchdowns in 38 games with the Buckeyes. He and Herbert will become fast friends.
21. Dolphins: OL Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
How are the Dolphins supposed to evaluate Tua Tagovailoa if he never has a chance to set his feet and throw the ball? The Dolphins whiffed on Austin Jackson and sent Laremy Tunsil packing but they need to keep taking hacks on the OL. Penning is a towering human at 6-foot-7, 340 pounds, and will use his size and strength at the next level to push guys around the way he has in college.
22. TRADE! Falcons (via BUF): QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Surprise! Atlanta ships out its own second round pick and its own third round pick in this year's draft to move up to No. 25 and pick their QB of the future. Pickett's time in college has been a true roller coaster, but his 2021 season has been inarguably impressive: 67.7% completion, 8.8 yards per attempt, 40 touchdowns, and just seven INTs. Matt Ryan's replacement has finally arrived.
23. Lions (via LAR): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Lions don't have a clear No. 1 wide receiver on their roster right now (or a clear No. 1 much of anything) so they go out and get Matt Corral some help by adding the Crimson Tide's top pass-catcher from this season. Williams has caught 61 passes for 1,261 yards and 13 TDs so far, and is a well-rounded wideout who basically does everything well. It's still a work in progress in Detroit but adding difference-makers at important positions will get the ball rolling.
24. Bengals: DL Logan Hall, Houston
Cincy will probably let Larry Ogunjobi walk after an underwhelming 2021 season, and adding a guy who stands 6-foot-6 and has 5.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss in 11 games with the Cougars this year is certainly one way to plug that hole. The Bengals have focused on building an explosive offense in recent years; it's time to make sure the defense can keep up as they try to cement their status in the AFC.
25. Cowboys: DL Travon Walker, Georgia
DeMarcus Lawrence has missed most of 2021 with a broken foot, and his production dipped significantly in the two seasons prior. If Dallas lets him go before next year they save about $8 million against the cap, or they could try to trade the DE who will be 30 by the time next season begins. Assuming Dallas wants to keep Micah Parsons' flexibility, the Cowboys could use another edge rusher to pair with Randy Gregory, who is about to get paid. Enter cost-controlled pass rush in the form of Travon Walker, who has the size (6-5, 275) and skillset to produce at the next level despite relatively meager production (7.5 career sacks).
26. Chiefs: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Outside of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs' fire-breathing offense... has some pretty underwhelming options at wide receiver. We think of guys like Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle as good players because they play with Patrick Mahomes, not because they're objectively talented. Jahan Doston, however, is objectively talented. A compact big-play threat wideout, he has 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 TDs this season and could alleviate some of the attention Hill gets. Doston, Hill, Kelce, and Mahomes will be near-impossible to stop.
27. Titans: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
With two different linebackers up for free agency, the Titans turn to the draft to fill at least one of those holes. Lloyd is an attacking linebacker who excels in coverage - he has 7.5 sacks this season to go along with three interceptions - and brings the kind of versatility and athleticism that should make him a starting linebacker immediately.
28. Buccaneers: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
For as complete a team as the Bucs seem to be, their secondary could stand to upgrade the cornerback position opposite Jamel Dean. Gardner has notched three interceptions in each of his three seasons with the Bearcats, is 6-foot-2, and is solid in man coverage. He feels like the kind of player who can slide into a pro system and start in Week 1.
29. Patriots: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Mac Jones is getting a lot of pub right now, but the Patriots' defense is often what buoys Bill Belichick's best teams, and adding a linebacker like Nakobe Dean to an already-solid defense would be a coup for a Pats team already returning to the league's elite ranks. Dean is having a career year with 5.0 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 INTs, and a forced fumble. Belichick will get the most out of him.
30. Packers: WR Drake London, USC
What happens if Davante Adams leaves along with Aaron Rodgers? Who will Jordan Love be throwing to in his first year as the Packers' starter? London should make Love's life easier. A gigantic target at 6-foot-5, London exploded this year with the Trojans before suffering a season-ending ankle fracture: he caught 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns... in just eight games. Yeah, that'll do just fine.
31. Ravens: OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
The Ravens watched Orlandon Brown Jr. leave, lost Ronnie Stanley for the season, and suddenly turned into a team that can lose to the Dolphins in prime time. That can't happen when you have as much skill talent as Baltimore has, and the lack of offensive line depth on this roster is super troubling. Petit-Frere is a fringe first-round guy with good size and agility, and he brings versatility along the line.
32. Cardinals: DE Drake Jackson, USC
It's hard to find a hole in Arizona's roster, but neither J.J. Watt nor Chandler Jones is getting any younger and the Cardinals will want to keep attacking opposing offenses. Jackson is a perfect hybrid edge rusher who can play linebacker or defensive end, depending on need. He has 12.5 career sacks and 25.0 tackles for loss with the Trojans, and can learn from some of the best.
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